Archive for the ‘Doc Watson’ Tag
A bit more than a year ago, I became aware of a novel published the previous year. When I finally saw the book in a bookstore, three things immediately struck me:
1. There was a banjo on the cover, albeit of the dreaded six-string variety;
2. The novel was entitled Hang Down Your Head, a moniker that calls to mind to even the most pedestrian of roots listener “Tom Dooley”/”Tom Dula”; and
3. Upon examination, it was apparent that the story was set in Edmonton.
This final detail reminded me that I had previously read a review of the book somewhere, but all I could recall was that it involved a murder at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival. Anyone who has attended the fest in the last ten years has likely fantasized about killing someone (usually morons with scruffy beards and dance hands who talk all through Rodney Crowell’s set…) while in attendance.
I purchased the novel and read it. My intent here today is not to review the book- it is two years old- but I found it a little uneven the first time through, and this feeling was reaffirmed the other night upon re-reading. It is predictable in places, awkward in others, and yet the book has so much going for it, including lots of south side Edmonton references and as much roots music discussion.
The protagonist through whose voice the story unfolds is flippant, pithy and a bit snarky and given to tangents that only serve to endear her to similarly minded people. Naturally, I quite fell for Randy Craig, given her internal dialogues and vivid descriptions about “Stackalee,” Edmonton’s summer festivals, the LRT, Rutherford North, the Tory Turtle, Yianni’s Taverna, and the vision of Moses Asch. It is MacDonald’s imperfect style of ‘writing within Craig’s head’ that I most enjoyed: she could have ‘got there’ more quickly, but the journey would have been much less rich for the sake of brevity.
I write this today because I noticed that the latest local bestseller from MacDonald has recently been released. O, and the Edmonton Folk Music Festival is approaching, although tickets for all but seniors have been sold out since the day they went on sale.
While reading the book a year ago, I made notes on the many roots music references I especially appreciated thinking that when MacDonald published her next novel, it would make a timely little Fervor Coulee piece. Of course, those notes were lost in the move and are not scheduled to resurface until twenty minutes after I hit Post on this.
Other than the novel’s title and the murder at the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, what does all this have to do with roots music you may still be asking yourself. The backdrop of the plot is that Randy Craig, the accidental protagonist, is working at the University of Alberta’s Smithsonian Folkways Collection Project. Briefly, her term position is to listen to the Smithsonian Folkways collection and write little snippets to accompany the recordings on the website devoted to the Moses Asch collection housed at the university. This allows Craig- when she isn’t stumbling further into a series of murders and assaults- to make many roots music observations. Sometimes these get in the way of the plot (hence, my comment about unevenness above), but for me they add a great deal of colour and make the entire book more engaging.
Here I am going to attempt to highlight some of my favourite lines/references in the book, and link to sound bits and video found on the web, where possible linking to a song mentioned in the book. I’m dividing them into ‘roots music/Smithsonian Folkways’ related, ‘General’, and ‘Edmonton/University of Alberta’ related.
Roots and Smithsonian Folkways favourites from Hang Down Your Head:
1. “I had the feeling that Maybelle (Carter) would have been someone I’d have liked a heck of a lot if I’d ever met her.”
2. My favourite, because it almost slips by the reader- “What sort of name is ‘Eck,’ anyhow?”
3. A couple extend conversations around the roots of the Tom Dooley/Tom Dula story, as well as characters named [Black] Jack Davey and Barbara Allen.
4. “I love Doc Watson’s voice; it was as mellow as honey running in the hot sun…”
5. References to and observations made about Pete Seeger, Woody Guthrie, murder ballads and Childe ballads, James Keelaghan, “Down By the Henry Moore,” and Tanglefoot, as well as dialogue contributions from the likes of Ferron and especially Tom Paxton, who provides significant background on the family in the middle of the murders.
General passages or allusions/references I liked:
1. A Jerry Orbach mention! (One of my great regrets is not running down Orbach at a Montreal airport when I recognized him from a distance.)
2. “I maintain that Tom Waits would be nowhere without [Dave] Van Ronk to carve the pathway for him. Of course, that could also be true for Rod Stewart and Kim Carnes, who I had long suspected were the same person (of course, once I heard Bonnie Tyler, I realized they were both her.)”
3. Thinking of her mother, who feared apartment life should her behaviour (such as late night baths) negatively impact on her neighbours, Randy muses, “She, of course, had no idea of the basic indifference of man any more. She had been raised in an age of manners and etiquette, which is something we have somehow managed to lose along the way to the twenty-first century…the world was just more and more rude and irritable each day.”
4. A lovely comparison between homesteading in northern Alberta (Chris and Sally Jones country, for a roots reference) and life in the Appalachians.
5. MacDonald’s use of the word ‘chesterfield.’ ‘Nuff said.
Edmonton/University of Alberta references:
1. About the U of A campus- “It’s a shame that most students leave the campus for summer work or holidays back home just as the U of A is beginning to look like everyone’s dream of collegiate life.”
2. Remember when I mentioned ‘pithy’ earlier? From the same page as the above- again, writing about the U of A campus “Abandoned by all except grade school teachers hoping to escape the classroom by getting advanced degrees and becoming principals.” Ouch.
3. Mentions of John Wort Hannam and Mike Stack, and an especially nuanced discussion about Ben Sures. O, and Colin MacLean!
4. “The worst thing about hot weather in Edmonton is that you feel incredibly ungrateful if you complain about it. So much of the year is spent bundled so that you have no exposed flesh to freeze within ten seconds, that when some hot weather comes…you feel as if you can’t voice an opinion about it.”
5. “The southerners know how to celebrate their “Shortnin’ Bread” and “Jambalaya” , but as far as I could think, only Bill Bourne had immortalized “Saskatoon Pie.” I know that song isn’t “Saskatoon Pie,” but I couldn’t find it anywhere, and the line from the book was too good to pass up.
All in all, Hang Down Your Head is likely to provide any roots music fan with several hours of entertainment as the murder mystery unfolds as well as countless hours of Internet sleuthing to uncover performers and songs mentioned. The book provides lots of quips about the sociology and minutia of the Edmonton Folk Music Festival, most of them kind but sometimes (and gleefully) edging on snarky.
Hang Down Your Head and other Janice MacDonald titles including the new Condemned to Repeat are available at (some) Edmonton bookstores, including Audreys. If you aren’t near Edmonton, the Amazon and Chapters/Indigo behemoths have it as well.
Thanks for visiting Fervor Coulee. Donald
Elizabeth Cook is everything that is good about country music. Here, she rips through “Columbus Stockade Blues.” Doc never did it quite like this…
“I have seen the David, I’ve seen the Mona Lisa, too.
I have heard Doc Watson play Columbus Stockade Blues.”
-Guy Clark, “Dublin Blues”
Over at Fervor Coulee Bluegrass, I’ve posted my 2003/2004 piece about the Doc Watson-David Holt album Legacy. I’m listening to it tonight and thinking of Doc. As I type, Doc is recollecting his early memories of his beloved Rosa Lee. It is a wonderful recording, and appropriate listening on this day. http://www.countrystandardtime.com/blog/FervorCouleeBluegrass/entry.asp?xid=889 will get you there- I retyped the piece this evening, fixing only typos and a couple awkward phrases.
David Morris writes it better than I ever could: http://bluegrasstoday.com/42368/rip-doc-watson/
I’ll go listen to Legacy, his triple album of stories and songs with David Holt.
We all die. Some of us leave more than just what we created.
There is no good way to die.
Doc Watson has been quite possibly the most important gateway to bluegrass and roots music I’ve had. From the first time I heard him, most likely on Marty Stuart’s Busy Bee Cafe album, I’ve been a fan.
I made my first American bluegrass trip in 2001 simply to catch him in concert Tacoma. Somehow, I scored a single first row centre seat. Never have I felt so blessed to have been in attendance at a concert of a legend as he and Jack Lawrence held court. A couple years ago, I saw him at Hardly Strictly. It was apparent that the previous decade had taken its toll, but the fingers still flew over the strings of his guitar.
Today comes the news that we’ve been dreading all week. Should this be the end for Doc Watson, the world will lose a legend. He bridged the bluegrass, folk, and old-time worlds like few, if any, ever have. http://bluegrasstoday.com/42372/watson-family-called-to-docs-side/
“Let me pick one, son.”
I was on a brief vacation for most of this past week and my listening reflects what is on my mp3 player. It was lovely to be sitting in the Vancouver Island sun watching the waves lap the shoreline with bald eagles flying overhead while listening to Doc Watson and such. A nice, relaxing break. As always, only whole album listening gets listed; this is what passed my ears this week:
Tom Russell- The Tom Russell Anthology: Veteran’s Day
Doc Watson- Trouble in Mind: The Doc Watson Country Blues Collection and Hayes Carll- Trouble in Mind Through a glitch in how my machine sorts files, these two ended up in the same folder. Listening to them trading songs in this manner was perfect. This is the first time I have been able to listen to the Carll album in its entirety- for no reason than lack of attention span- and I found myself quite enjoying it. The Doc set is faultless.
Guy Clark- Sometimes the Song Writes You Truly a master. His strongest set in quite awhile, and he has never recorded a less than satisfying album.
Various Artists- Real: The Tom T. Hall Project One of the best tribute albums, and possibly my favourite. Without fault.
Steve Earle- Train A Comin’ Still my favourite Steve Earle recording.
The Gaslight Anthem- The ’59 Sound I love everything about this album, including all the Springsteen references, deliberate and obvious as they are.
Slowdrag- Slow-Fidelity One of the finest acoustiblue albums of the past ten years.
John Wort Hannam- Queen’s Hotel As a member of the Polaris Music Prize jury, I wasn’t surprised that this album didn’t get through to the long list. I was disappointed, though. Folk music doesn’t get much better than this.
Charlie Sizemore- The Story Is…The Songs of Tom T. Hall The second best Tom T. Hall tribute. And it is pretty darn good.
Paul Burch- Pan-American Flash
The Wooden Sky- If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone Another album that was considered for the Polaris Music Prize this year; it didn’t make the short list.
Kate Campbell- Blues and Lamentations
The Drive-By Truckers- The Fine Print A collection of odds & sods that rivals several of their albums.
John Stewart- Bombs Away Dream Babies
James Reams & the Barnstormers- Troubled Times and Barnstormin’ Listening to these two last week made me realize, again, how strong his original material is, and how different it is from typical bluegrass fare.
That’s the mp3 album list from last week; I never thought I’d become a portable device person, but I’m glad I did; the convenience is great, the battery life is unreal, and the capacity- even on my wee 4 gig machine, is incredible.
My wife is convinced I have a record store GPS inserted somewhere in my body. This was proven, again, when I pulled into a random parking spot in Parksville and looked up to see the community’s new and used record store in front of me. The Cranky Dog was visited three times over five days and offered up some discs I couldn’t leave without, including:
Thin Lizzy- The Universal masters Collection A set of pre-Vertigo Thin Lizzy. A nice collection I hadn’t previously seen.
The album I am most glad I listened to last week.
Dwight Yoakam- South of Heaven, West of Hell I’ve been looking for this one for three or four years, after passing up on it the only other time I saw it in a store. I love searches like this; it makes the locating of the album that much more meaningful. Good for driving, as are most Yoakam albums.
James Gordon- Mining for Gold (Disc 2) A retrospective of the Ontario songwriter’s material up to 2000; 8 bucks for the 2-disc set. The deal of the trip.
Ray Wylie Hubbard- Live at Cibolo Creek Country Club
Marshall Crenshw- The Definitive Pop Collection I already have most of the songs. Who cares? A non-stop power pop , two-disc set.
Graham Parker and the Rumour- The Up Escalator Not among the critic’s favourites, The Up Escalator is one of my essential GP albums. It may have been the first album of his I bought and the album holds up. “Endless Night” remains a stone classic.
Bookending our Vancouver Island getaway was more listening:
Various Artists- Broken Hearts & Dirty Windows: Songs of John Prine I missed this one last week. Review is up at the Lonesome Road Review.
Chip Taylor & Carrie Rodriguez- The Trouble with Humans
Lainie Marsh- The Hills Will Cradle Thee Liking it more with every listen.
Various Artists- Putumayo Presents Tribute to a Reggae Legend A nice set for casual reggae fans. I prefer my reggae with a bit more anger.
Mississippi Live- Mississippi Live
Kim Beggs- Blue Bones To be reviewed in the paper this Friday. A great album.
The Sadies- Darker Circles With a well-deserved place on the Polaris Prize short-list.
Andre Williams- That’s All I Need
Fred Eaglesmith- Cha Cha Cha Reviewed here: http://www.countrystandardtime.com/d/cdreview.asp?xid=4463 With every listen, this album reveals a bit more. And what it reveals, is good.
The album I most enjoyed listening to this week.
Fred Eaglesmith- Milly’s Café, 50 Odd Dollars, Dusty I listened to these the other night while prepping my Cha Cha Cha piece. Dusty shocked me. I thought I disliked the album, and because of that I haven’t listened to it since it was released. Surprise. It’s pretty good. I know what I didn’t like- the organ- but my ears have grown into it. Really glad I pulled it off the shelf.
The Sadies- Darker Circles Working on a review. Well, listening a lot in preparation of writing a review.
Bryan Sutton and Friends- Almost Live One of those albums I feel quite inadequate reviewing.
The Preservation Hall Jazz Band- Preservation Treme wrapped up Season 1 last night; I thought it had finished up before Memorial Day, but it only took a week off. Great show. I hadn’t listened to this one in a couple weeks, but put it on after the show was finished. The last four cuts really appealed to me last night.
Ian Dury- New Boots and Panties!! Just had to listen to it again. Rhymes, rhymes, rhymes. Rhythms. Rhythms. Rhythms. Good.
Kimberley Rew- Great Central Revisited One of my favourite albums. He is a master.
Highwaymen- The Road Goes On Forever: 10th Anniversary Edition Pulled off the shelf while writing a review for the new Mark Chesnutt album. Enjoyable, and even more so now than when first released.
Kathy Kallick Band- Between the Hollow and the High-Rise Great title! One of my favourite bluegrass people, Kathy Kallick is. I’ll be listening to this one all summer.
Oliver Schroer & The Stewed Tomatoes- Freedom Row Even better the second week. Reviewed in the paper last Friday; link below…somewhere.
Dierks Bentley- Up On The Ridge The last time a major country artist- at the top of his game, while not exactly setting the world on fire with his previous release- was this brave, putting everything on the line to make music he loves was, well…never? Marty Stuart, who Bentley does remind me of at times on this pretty spectacular acoustic roots album, did something similarly risky in 1999 with The Pilgrim. While an artistic success, The Pilgrim died at retail. So far, Up On The Ridge is a chart success. It is a terrific album and the contributions of The Punch Brothers and Del McCoury push it over the edge.
Doc Watson- Songs for Little Pickers Any Doc is good Doc.
Mumford & Sons- Sigh No More Modern music for a non-modern guy.
The Wooden Sky- If I Don’t Come Home You’ll Know I’m Gone The only release from my Polaris Music Prize ballot to make it through to the ‘long list’ stage; how can I be so consistently out-of-touch with the Canadian pressie masses? Pretty easily- only a very small sampling of music I would identify as roots made it through- see the long list here: http://www.polarismusicprize.ca/blog/148 Lots of good music, no doubt, but it is criminal that John Wort Hannam was overlooked- Juno nominated, Queen’s Hotel is wonderful folk album, one for the ages. The Wooden Sky is battling it out with Lee Harvey Osmond for top place on my ‘short list’ ballot. Had LHO had a W in it, it may have made my Long List ballot.
The Fabulous Ginn Sisters- You Can’t Take A Bad Girl Home I’m reserving judgment until I listen again. Some nice songs with lyrics clever enough for me to suspect Fred Eaglesmith had a hand in them- the writing credits prove me wrong.